The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

From April to May 1940, nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and academics were murdered by the Soviets in what became known as the Katyn Massacre. Only one Polish officer survived the systematic execution of tens of thousands of prisoners taken captive by the Red Army.

Maj. Eugenjusz Komorowski published his autobriography, Night Never Ending, in 1974. In it, he recounts his story of how he survived the Katyn Massacre. The book opens with the capture of his unit by the Red Army near Grodno, Poland shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1939. Upon capture, the Polish military waited until the NKVD, a precursor to the KGB, arrived and ordered the Poles to be shipped off to Tarnopol camp, a temporary Soviet camp within Poland. From there, the soldiers were deported to Kozelsk, another Soviet camp. This camp was to be their last stop.

When the Poles arrived Kozelsk, the NKVD attempted to indoctrinate them into communism. However, most Poles resisted the propaganda and held to their democratic values. The more the Poles opposed communism, the more they were forced to listen to the ideology. The NKVD would deceive the Polish officers to come to events like movies, and force the Poles to stay in the room and listen to why communism in the best ideology. Furthermore, any officer or soldier who had been outside of Poland for any reason was tortured through intense questioning. Unfortunately for Komorowski, he had studied abroad in England and Belgium.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Polish soldiers are taken captive after their surrender (Public Domain)

Komorowski was brought in by an NKVD officer and charged with spying in London and Brussels on behalf of the Polish government. The interrogation by the NKVD lasted almost seventy-four hours. For three days, Komorowski was beaten, denied sleep, food, and water, in order to illicit a confession of spying, despite evidence proving the contrary. Komorowski noted in his account how some officers cracked under the NKVD’s brutal interrogation.

Furthermore, by January 1940, the officers in Kozelsk were forced by the NKVD to sign confessions that they had also spied on the Soviet Union. After the confession was signed, the NKVD threatened to make the confession known to Poland and had the officer branded as a traitor if they did not convince other officers to sign similar confessions.

In the spring of 1940, the NKVD gathered the prisoners in the Kozelsk camp, marched them to a train, and sent them out west. The train stopped near Smolesnk and the prisoners were marched by the NKVD into Katyn Forest. Once in the woods, the NKVD lined the prisoners up, bound their hands, placed a coat over their heads, and lined them up a few at a time and in front of a shallow pit. Once lined up, an NKVD officer systematically shot them in the head, one at a time, and then kicked the body into the shallow pit. After he was shot, Komorowski fell into the ditch and passed out.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
The mass graves were discovered by the Germans in 1943 (Public Domain)

He woke up in the ditch with the bodies of his fellow Poles all around him, the bullet meant for his head having gone through his arm instead. Wounded and traumatized, he crawled out of the ditch and wandered the town until he was located by German police. He was the only survivor of the Soviet war crime and provided the only Polish account of the atrocities committed in Katyn Forest.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it takes to get a Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCOM

Dennis Wolfe, Retired U.S. Army sergeant major, received U.S. Special Operations Command’s 2018 Bull Simons Award April 18, 2018, in Tampa, Florida. His remarkable five decade career in and out of uniform pioneering explosive ordnance and disposal tactics for special operations was the basis for the award. His expertise established a world class program to counter weapons of mass destruction becoming the standard for the United States government and our international partners.

The lifetime achievement award recognizes recipients who embody the true spirit, values, and skills of a special operations warrior. Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons, whom the award is named after, was the epitome of these attributes.


Wolfe was born in Port Trevorton, Pennsylvania and raised in humble surroundings where there was not much of a chance to make a decent living and travel.

“It was 1962 following graduation from high school and there was very little opportunity where I grew up and was raised and I always had this dream of seeing the world and knew there was a lot out there and probably the way to do it was to join the service,” Wolfe said. “I, of course, had no idea what I was getting into.”

During basic training an unfortunate injury would turn out to be a fortunate career opportunity for him.

“My basic training was in Fort Gordon, Georgia and I wanted to go airborne, but I injured my knee so they put me in a garrison unit. The guys in the garrison unit convinced me I should go to explosive ordnance disposal school, which I did,” said Wolfe. “In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service.”

After serving more than a decade, he became a mentor in the EOD career field and was teaching future conventional Army EOD specialists. Then his career took an unexpected turn.

“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” said Wolfe.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Dennis Wolfe

The assessment and selection was for a unit whose mission would be hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. During the assessment and selection process he was noticed right away by future USSOCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Mel Wick.

“The assessment and selection process that Dennis went through was one of the toughest mental and physical selection processes in the world,” said Wick. “There were several reasons Dennis was chosen. We did some psychological testing. We did a lot of interviews with people he had worked with and he had a very important skill that was missing in the group we were assembling. It didn’t take him long at all to earn the respect of the other more experienced Soldiers that he was in the training course with.”

Another famous special operator from that era, former USSOCOM Commander Gen. Peter Schoomaker, and 2016 Bull Simons Award recipient recognized that Wolfe was a unique asset. “Dennis was a little different than most the rest of us because he came with a specialty [EOD] that wasn’t familiar to us which in the long run was fortuitous,” said Schoomaker.

It would not be long before Wolfe would take part in some of the country’s most dangerous missions, among them the invasion of Grenada, and the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt known as Operation Eagle Claw.

“We got word that the embassy in Iran had been taken over by terrorists. They said that probably was going to be a mission that this unit was going to be involved in,” Wolfe said. “That mission eventually became Eagle Claw where we planned to rescue 52 hostages.”


“When we were preparing for Eagle Claw Dennis was able to provide a lot of assistance there for the planning and preparation for that,” Wick said. “He was heavily involved in figuring out the breaching charges for the walls. He was also going to be key to looking for and disarming booby traps.”

The failed Iranian hostage rescue during Operation Eagle Claw had an impact on many special operators and Wolfe was no exception.

“I think the experiences of Eagle Claw had a deep impact on everyone that was there. I think that was definitely shown throughout the rest of his career with the lessons he learned there,” Wick said. “His ability to analyze things, to anticipate things, to always look forward, and to always be considering the broader picture rather than the small technical piece that he was focused on.”

Wolfe was noted for his calm demeanor in any stressful situation. The years of training dealing with weapons of mass destruction gave him the ability to keep his teams focused.

“In a crisis situation he was also a very steady anchor that people could hang on to, to calm themselves down by looking at Dennis,” Wick said. “I mean if Dennis can be calm in this situation, well the rest had to be.”

Wolfe became much more than an EOD specialist for the special mission unit and learned to master the essential special operator skills.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Dennis Wolfe
(Photo by Michael Bottoms)

“Of course when you learn when someone has this extraordinary specialty you figure that would limit what they do. The truth is Dennis ended up being an extraordinary operator as well,” Schoomaker said. “He went through what all of us went through and became extraordinary operator in the special mission unit. He ended up being a team leader and eventually being the sergeant major of the selection and training detachment.”

Being an operator means you have to take on many personas and Wolfe was very skilled at going from noticed to unnoticed.

“Dennis was able to fit into whatever conditions he was faced with. He could be out in the mud and two hours later he’s cleaned up in a suit in front of an ambassador or a senator giving a briefing. One hour after that he is with a bunch of scientists going through the very technical details of disarming a nuclear weapon,” Wick said. “I’ve seen him sit on the corner in dirty ragged clothes with a bottle of wine while he is observing a target. He could adapt very rapidly in his speech. He could sound like a redneck or he could sound like a scientist and he could switch from one to the other very easily.”

Retiring from the Army, Wolfe became a civil servant and carried on the special operations EOD mission that eventually would have a global impact.

“Even after he retired we retained him in a civilian capacity where he could put his full time effort into developing a full scale program as the field evolved,” said Schoomaker.

In his civilian capacity, Wolfe would go on and write the tactics, techniques, and procedures that would greatly enhance the security of the United States.

“When Dennis Wolfe and I met the Soviet Union recently collapsed and there was a big concern about the loss of control of weapons of mass destruction,” said James McDonnell, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. “Dennis was the guy that brought EOD into special operations. So he had the vision to understand how the terrorist threat was evolving and that vision was absolutely critical because all the planning had to be done in advance. All techniques, tactics and procedures had to be done in advance and they really didn’t exist.”

Wolfe was a master at dealing with people who weren’t in special operations and incorporating their expertise into a special operations mission.

“So for example, scientists had all kinds of tools they thought were great, but you couldn’t necessarily jump out of an airplane with. You couldn’t dive with them,” McDonnel said. “So what Dennis was able to do was bring that into this national laboratory complex and say ‘if you take this tool and modify in this particular way then we can use it.'”

Echoing Secretary McDonnell’s sentiment, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James Bonner, who today is the commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command, and was as an officer who served with Wolfe, thinks he has had lasting, legacy impact on the entire EOD community.


“When we talk about weapons of mass destruction we are talking about chemical, biological, nuclear, it can be radiological, it can have an explosive element to it and when you look at an explosive ordnance disposal technician it takes about one year to go through EOD school, just to be able to work basic EOD problems. Then if you are fortunate to be assigned to the special mission unit, the training plan Dennis incorporated with the national lab takes another year of training before you are ready for a role in the special mission unit. That is the level of expertise and capability that Dennis was able to build.”

“Dennis was able to bring highly technical skills into the special operations community that it didn’t have before and build that capability literally over decades into a national asset that is globally unique,” said McDonnell.

Reflecting on his fifty years of government and in special operations, Wolfe’s humility is readily apparent.

“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a Soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”

“He had the courage to do some really amazing things and has made contributions that are just unmeasurable to the security of the United States,” Wick said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Italy’s knife-wielding special operators were WWI’s most devastating shock troops

Throughout history, Italy wasn’t known for its dominance or military strength, but these knife-wielding operators made crucial advances using only a small force.


The Arditi, meaning “the daring ones,” were a group of volunteers, chosen from the most courageous of men and considered to be Italy’s most elite soldiers during WWI. Getting their name from the Royal Italian Army in 1917, they were known for engaging the enemy with vicious hand to hand combat and swift tactical movement.

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
The Arditi.

The Arditi organization was much smaller than the regular infantry units, consisting of only five officers, 41 NCOs, and 150 men. Their unique strategy relied heavily on surprise, speed, and their sheath as they strategically advanced towards their opposition behind a curtain of allied artillery fire.

According to The Great War Youtube channel, once the bombardment ceased, the men would charge forward into enemy trenches, with only daggers in their teeth and grenades in their hands, with the goal of clearing and then holding their newly-earned positions until the relief of their fellow troops arrived, which could take up to a full day.

Due to their outstanding production, they were paid almost three times what the regular Army received.

Then, a bonus system was employed for taking enemy prisoners — 10 lire for a Private, 20 for an NCO, and 50 for an officer. Not to mention there was compensation for capturing enemy weapons, ranging from anywhere between 5 to 500 lire depending on the weapon’s size and caliber.

The Arditi seized 3,600 prisoners, 63 machine guns and 26 pieces of artillery over their course of the war. The Arditi were making bank back in 1917 and deserved every cent — according to History Answers.

As their losses in personnel grew, new soldiers were assigned to Arditi units by recommendation only. Before they could officially join, they had to complete a specialized school that mimicked the dangers and conditions of the front lines.

The fatality rates among the recruits were extremely high due to the realistic training methods.

It wasn’t until Battle of Vittorio Veneto Offensive in October of 1918 when the Arditi would make its largest impact on the war.  A dozen Arditi units combined, making two monstrous assault divisions. The brave men lead one another on a forceful charge on the Austro-Hungarian forces, resulting in a climatic victory.

Although the Arditi was disbanded in 1920, their bravery, patriotism, and impact on the Great War lives on in Italian military historical lore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: Emancipation Proclamation

On Sep. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, which would free more than 3 million Black souls from slavery in the United States.

Many associate slavery with the South, but the truth is that slavery existed in every colony before the Revolutionary War. In fact, Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery, and New York had over 1,600 slaves in 1720. Equally upsetting is the fact that presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves. By the mid 1860’s, however, the southern states and their plantation economy that depended heavily on the free labor provided by their captives.

In the first year of the war, President Lincoln shied away from the topic of slavery, and instead concentrated on the reunification of the country. But after the union victory at the Battle of Antietam, he made his first emancipation proclamation, announcing that anyone enslaved in Confederate states would be set free in one hundred days.

On Jan. 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, calling for the abolishment of slavery in rebel states as well as the recruitment of African Americans to the Union military. Nearly 200,000 would serve.

After the proclamation, anti-slavery nations like Great Britain and France could no longer support the Confederacy. Lincoln pushed for an anti-slavery amendment to the Constitution, which would pass after his death, eliminating the legal practice of slavery throughout America for good — its affects, however, would linger for generations.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: No Progress without a Machete

Roughly 2,700,000 men and women served in the Vietnam War. The war lasted from 1965 to 1975 and killed roughly 58,000 American troops. Among those were 1,000 were from Louisiana. It’s been almost 50 years since the Vietnam War ended. Many Louisiana Veterans are still around to tell their stories. And like all veteran stories, some of them are far from the norm.

Not all Vietnam War memories are sad

Like many who served in Vietnam, William Dimattia was also drafted. He served as a surgeon for the US Army Medical Corps in 1967. His service mainly consisted of providing medical care to his assigned Special Forces as well as the nearby Vietnam hospital outside of Saigon. Dimattia was the only physician there. While he took care of American troops, most of his patients were Vietnamese people who lived in the area. He actually has some happy memories from his time in Vietnam, as he repaired a lot of cleft lips for Vietnamese children. He said it turned their frowns into smiles.

No progress without a machete

Just like the doc, Vincent Alexander was drafted. His role in Vietnam was as a Combat Infantry Soldier. As you might expect, he said the only goal was to find and kill the enemy. So he and his team walked single file through the thick, swampy jungle. Their only way forward was with a machete. Once, they accidentally found themselves on a Viet Cong Base Camp while already deep into the jungle. Only 12 survived of the 28 after the Viet Cong fired on them. Alexander said he saw people get killed daily. The threat of being killed himself was always on his mind. 

The invisible enemy

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Guerrilla forces from North Vietnam’s Vietcong movement cross a river in 1966 during the Vietnam War (Public Domain)

Sgt. Charles Stroud was Combat Infantry. He said the “good thing” about fighting in the jungle was that the enemy couldn’t see them. The Viet Cong would start firing when they heard their footsteps, but without aim. Of course, the same was true on the reverse end. Each side was shooting based on noises, but they couldn’t see. Stroud said they rarely actually caught a glimpse of the enemy. Eventually, he got hit by a booby trap and a fellow Soldier saved him. After the hospital fixed him up, Stroud was sent home grateful to have his life.

Working out of an air-conditioned hut

Captain Paul Marks, Jr served in the US Army Judge Advocate General’s Court in 1970. His arrival in Vietnam was different than you’d expect. He filled out what was called a Dream Sheet, selecting the ideal work he would be doing as his service. Since he was a lawyer who had passed the bar, he ended up doing legal work. The courtroom was an air-conditioned hut. Most of his work was prosecuting money laundering drug cases and black marketeering, including some Officers. 

The moral of the story here is clear: You never know what a Vietnam Veteran’s story is until you ask. 

Watch Cpt. Marks story and more here.

Related: Here’s a roundup of the 8 service members with the most Purple Hearts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the Soviet drone tanks of World War II

When the Red Army crossed the border into Finland in 1939, along with them came a battalion of remote-controlled tanks, controlled by another tank some 1000 meters behind them. Along with the usual heavy armaments, the tank drones shot fire from flamethrowers, smoke grenades, and some were even dropping ticking time bombs, just waiting to get close to their target.

It’s a surprising technological feat for a country that had only just recently undergone a wave of modernization.


The Soviets had this remote technology in its pocket for a decade, having first tested the tanks on a Soviet T-18 in the early 1930s. While the earliest models were controlled with a very long wire, the USSR was soon able to upgrade to a more combat-friendly radio remote. By the time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Red Army had two battalions of the drones, which it called teletanks. At this time, the teletank technology was in Soviet T-26 tanks, called the Titan TT-26, and there was a big list of tanks, ships, and aircraft on which the Soviets wanted to equip with tele-tech.

Unfortunately, the TT-26 wasn’t able to fully participate in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was able to destroy the vast majority of the Red Army’s TT-26 teletanks. In the months that followed, it proved to be more economical and timely to produce a regular version of the T-26 and man them with human crews.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

T-20 Komsomolets Teletanks

It would have been unlikely that the teletank technology would have made the difference on the Eastern Front of World War II anyway. They were notoriously unreliable in unfamiliar terrain and were easily stopped by tank spikes. If a teletank managed to outpace the range of its controller, it simply stopped and did nothing. The Soviets mitigated this by mining the hatches of the tanks, but an inoperative tank is still not very useful to the Allied cause.

Eventually, the USSR’s remaining teletanks were converted to conventional tanks in order to join the fight against the Nazis. Perhaps the emerging technology of the time was an interesting aside for military planners before the war, but the fun and games must stop when you have to start fighting for survival.

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Why the American military created the Silver Star, Navy Cross and other medals for valor

Today, the Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Air Force Cross are known as awards that recognize heroic actions by service members in combat.


But they were created on the heels of serious controversy over other awards.

During the Civil War, Congress created the Medal of Honor to recognize valor. But some of the awards were seen as questionable by some. Perhaps the most egregious of these was the case of the 27th Maine Regiment.

According to HomeofHeroes.com, the 864 men of this regiment were awarded the medal en masse due to a poorly-worded order by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a bureaucratic snafu.

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Sgt. Joshua Moore receives the Navy Cross from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus during a 2013 awards ceremony. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arif Patani)

 

So, in 1917, there was an effort to clean up the mess that had been created. A total 911 Medals of Honor were revoked, including those from the 27th Maine. But there was also an effort to make sure that the Medal of Honor would not be so frivolously awarded in the future, while still recognizing gallantry in action.

As America entered World War I, it was obvious there would be acts of valor. So Congress created the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Citation Star (Which would later become the Silver Star Medal) in 1918, and the Navy Cross in 1919 to address valor that didn’t rise to the level of the Medal of Honor. It was the start of the “Pyramid of Honor,” which now has a host of decorations to recognize servicemen (and women) for valor or for other meritorious actions.

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Army Spc. Craig Middleton receives the silver star from Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller in a 2012 ceremony. (Photo: US Army)

 

So, what sort of courageous actions warrant which medal? Perhaps one indicator of today’s standards can come from the sample citations in SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H.

Historically, though, it should be noted that in the Vietnam War, Randy “Duke” Cunningham received the Navy Cross for making ace (an Air University bio reports that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 10, 1972).

Or, one can look at the actions of Leigh Ann Hester to get a good idea of what would warrant a Silver Star.

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Censorship in the time of war: How the DoD controlled information

The War Office has the unique ability to censor letters, media reports and controls the flow of information from forward-deployed units to the general public. While most military members know this inherently, it might surprise you to understand how censorship got its legs in America and what it looks like today.

With all likelihood, there was probably some censorship happening during the Civil War, but because so many service personnel were illiterate, it’s hard to know exact numbers. But there had to be some censorship since often letters crossed into enemy territory. But the real start to military censorship started during WWI and the Espionage Act of 1917.


This act allowed the government to fine citizens for interference with recruiting troops or the refusal to perform military duties. The charge came with a fine of $10,000 and 20 years in prison. Within six months of the act being signed, there were over 1,000 people imprisoned.

The Sedition Act of 1918 meant that it became a crime to criticize the government, the Constitution, the flag, or the uniform of men in military service. This applied to both speeches and writing. Under the two laws, thousands of people were imprisoned for acts of nonviolent protest against the war. Additionally, at least 75 newspapers lost mailing privileges and were under governmental pressure to change their outward-facing editorial attitudes.

President Wilson went so far as to create a Committee on Public Information. This committee created a “voluntary censorship code” with newspaper journalists. The committee released a sanitized version of the news to over 6,000 newspapers every single day.

By WWII, censors were on the lookout for anything a soldier might say that would be of value to the enemy or anything that would contradict the official Committee on Public Information reports. The formal establishment of the Office of Censorship in 1941 gave e formal power to censor all communication between the US and foreign countries and prevented news organizations from publishing information that might inadvertently aid the enemy.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Hell’s island gets letters from heaven. Marines of the Fourth Division receive airmail in the most literal sense of the word when planes flew over Iwo and parachuted mail bags to the beach. The post office was in operation on the tenth day of the campaign. Setting up the sign post are (left to right), Sergeant B.D. Boyant, of Spartansburg, PA. and Corporal Kenneth E. Hales of Pasco, Washington. (Wikimedia Commons)

By 1942, the Office of War Information took over the flow of information into and out of the government to pass on “approved” versions of news events to news organizations. The OWI prevented any pictures of graphic photos from being released. It also severely limited the letters that it allowed to get through from forward-deployed service members to their families. Letters sent in foreign languages were intercepted, and since most censors didn’t understand what was written, the letter simply wasn’t delivered.

The Vietnam conflict saw the introduction of “5 O’Clock Follies” where press and military officials would gather to receive information about battles ahead of time. Then, the press would wait to report on them until after the battle started. Service member’s letters were heavily censored during this time as well.

During the Gulf War, censorship was not only blatantly accepted by all media outlets, but it was also expected. News reports were submitted to a security review before being released, and a press pool was established to allow one reported to accompany soldiers to combat areas. Letters from service members continued to be intercepted, and information relating to operational security was removed.

Our current conflicts in the War on Terror are still heavily censored, both in what’s allowed to be known ahead of time (like re-deployment dates and precise locations) and in the access the press has to battles. Most often, journalists are no longer allowed to embed in units, and the government has purchased the exclusive rights for commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan.

Now more than ever, OPSEC is important, since we all have smart devices that we carry with us. Imagery is shared in our modern world in ways it has never been in the past, making it even more important to keep up situational awareness and not give up secrets. For military members and this community, it’s not as much about free speech as it is protecting and defending the ones we love.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bloody story behind the bells the US returned to the Philippines

It was Sept. 27, 1901, and C Company of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment was stationed in the area Samar in the Philippines, specifically the town of Balnagiga. It was during the evening watch that the unit sentries noticed an unusual number of irregularly clothed women heading into the local church with baby-sized coffins. After a search revealed the coffins were carrying children killed by cholera, he let them pass on.

They should have checked closer.


The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Company C, 9th US Infantry Regiment with Valeriano Abanador (standing, sixth from right) taken in Balangiga. Abanador would later lead the surprise attack against them.

The United States had occupied the Philippines since it was wrested from Spanish control during the 1898 Spanish-American War. The people of the Philippines at first welcomed the Americans as liberators. As soon as they realized U.S. colonial ambitions, however, they turned on the Americans, launching an almost four-year long insurgency they would lose, becoming a U.S. possession until 1946.

Even after rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo surrendered to the U.S. in April, 1901, the fight wore on in places like Samar. The Americans stationed there should have been ready for anything.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

Filipino insurgency leader Emilio Aguinaldo reports aboard the USS Vicksburg as a prisoner of war.

(U.S. Army)

During that September night in 1901, the small coffins really were filled by children, presumably killed by a cholera epidemic that was sweeping the villages of the area. The inspecting sentry looked into one of the coffins, saw what was there, and even helped the woman nail the lid down again when he was finished. If he had looked underneath the corpse, he would have found cane-cutting blades hidden under the body.

All the coffins were filled with them.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

James Mattis and Philippines Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez shake hands in front of the Bells of Balangiga display at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Nov. 14, 2018. The ceremony in Wyoming signaled the start of an effort to return the bells to the Philippines.

(Wyoming Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy McGuire)

The next morning, the Americans went to breakfast as the local police chief sent his prisoners to work in the streets. As an American sentry, Adolph Gamlin walked by the Chief in the plaza, the Chief, Valeriano Abanador, grabbed Gamlin’s rifle, butt-stroked the private across the face and unloaded it into the men in the mess tent. The town church bells began to ring, signaling the attack on the surprised American company.

Two guards posted at the entrance to the local convent were killed by locals. The Filipinos then broke through, into the convent, and killed the unit’s officers. Simultaneously, the Bolo fighters began an assault on the local barracks. The locals had gotten the drop on the Americans, but the victims had one advantage — there weren’t enough attackers to get them all.

Some Americans in the mess tent and barracks escaped the initial surprise, regrouped, and retook the municipal hall where their arms were held. Now armed, the tide turned in favor of the Americans. Behind the Filipinos, Pvt. Adolph Gamlin (the sentry) regained consciousness as well as his rifle, and was wreaking havoc in the attackers’ rear. Gamlin had the whole plaza as a field of fire, and the attackers had no cover to hide behind.

Abanador was forced to pull his insurgents out.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

The bells arrived in Wyoming sometime in 1904.

Company C collected their dead, 48 of 74 men were killed in action. A further 26 were wounded and eight of those men would die later of those wounds. Not able to hold the town with their reduced numbers, they escaped by sea. The Filipinos could not hold the town either. They returned to bury an estimated 26-36 of their dead and then faded away before the Americans could come in and punish them.

The 11th infantry arrived in Balagiga on Oct. 25, 1901, and found the buried Filipinos. They burned the town and took the church bells, sending two of them to Fort Russell, now F.E. Warren Air Force Base. A third bell ended up with the 9th Infantry at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

A solider poses with the third Bell of Balangiga at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, ca. 2004.

The bells were ordered to be returned to the government of the Philippines by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. On Dec. 11, 2018, a U.S. Air Force C-130 landed in Manila, carrying the bells back to the people of the Philippines 117 years after they were taken as war booty by the U.S. Army.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 battles that took place after the war ended

Wars are generally long, bloody, and horrible affairs that everyone is anxious to wrap up so that everyone can go back home.


But for some reason, there have been wars that don’t end on time. Here are four times that the U.S. found itself in a battle after the war it was fighting was technically already over:

1. The Battle of New Orleans propels Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to nationwide fame after the War of 1812

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the War of 1812 ended.

 

The War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, but Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson repelled an attack on Jan. 8, 1815, by approximately 8,000 British regulars who hadn’t yet heard about the treaty. Jackson’s defense of the city inflicted 2,000 casualties — including three generals and seven colonels — on the British and made Jackson an American hero.

Even that wasn’t the final battle of the supposedly terminated war. The British survivors of New Orleans launched another attack on nearby Fort St. Philip which failed and then a successful attack on Fort Bowyer in modern-day Alabama.

2. American Gen. Sterling Price fought an extra battle in Mexico because he didn’t believe the peace news

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
The city of Vera Cruz was captured as a legitimate military objective during the Mexican-American War. The city of Santa Cruz de Rosales was captured after the war because why not? (Painting: Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot)

 

American Gen. Sterling Price had orders to hold and defend southern New Mexico near the end of the Mexican-American War — orders that he ignored to attack the city of Chihuahua in early 1848. When he arrived at the city, a group of citizens told him that the garrison had withdrawn from the town to avoid bloodshed as the war had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the previous month.

Price basically wrote the treaty off as fake news and just assaulted south anyway, catching up to the Mexican forces at the city of Santa Cruz de Rosales. The Mexican commander attempted to defend the town, repelling attacks from the north and west but falling to a thrust from the south.

3. The Battle of Palmito Ranch may have been a colonel trying to pop his combat cherry before the war ended

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
A map of the Battle of Palmito Ranch captures the military movements but not the stupidity of the conflict. (Photo: Pi3.124 CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

While there was no official peace treaty ending the Civil War, everyone had pretty much agreed it was over by May 1865. Lincoln was dead, the Confederate cabinet was scattered, and the War Department was getting ready to release most of the Union Army from the service.

But Union Col. Theodore H. Barrett found himself occupying an island near Confederate forces who were slowly negotiating a surrender with a major general. Rather than let those negotiations play out, Barrett led his regiment against the Confederate forces despite the fact that he had no combat experience and no orders to do so.

The blow-by-blow of the battle is farcical where it isn’t boring, but it basically amounts to a useless Union defeat at the hands of barely interested rebels and some French soldiers who were stationed in Mexico just across the river. Barrett later claimed the defeat was the fault of another colonel, but a court martial supported no charges against the other officer.

4. The last troops to die in the Vietnam War fought weeks after the war ended and two years after America withdrew

 

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
U.S. Marines run from a heavily-damaged HH-53C helicopter during the SS Mayaguez operation. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

While the American involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended with the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the actual war drew on for another two years until South Vietnam surrendered to Communist North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.

But the final battle involving American troops took place from May 12 to 15. The Khmer Rouge, a communist military group that had recently seized Cambodia, captured the crew of the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez and President Gerald Ford deployed sailors, Marines, and airmen to rescue them.

The operation suffered from a lack of intelligence and the Marines hit the wrong island, one that was being guarded by 150 to 200 dug-in fighters when the Marines expected light resistance. America lost 41 Marines and airmen killed and wounded, but recovered the ship and the crew.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The ​story behind the hair the British will return to Ethiopia

Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II spent his last hours holed up in a fort near the Red Sea town of Maqdala. He was under siege by British troops who had just routed his numerically superior force and tore through his lines. With the British storming his fortress, the Emperor shot himself in the head, ironically using a gun gifted to him from Queen Victoria.


British forces had a field day with the fort. They would eventually destroy it before heading back to England, but first, they had to plunder everything of value from the captured prize. Their victory train required 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry all the gold, gems, and artifacts back to where they came from. But the British took more than that, they presented the Emperor’s seven-year-old son to Queen Victoria and kept locks of Emperor Tewodros II’s hair as a prize.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

Not my first prize choice, but whatever.

Tewodros’ legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of Ethiopians to this day. More than 150 years later, the defiant Emperor’s spirit of independence inspires some of Ethiopia’s finest writers and artists. He is now a symbol for the potential of the country, a forward-thinking leader that would not bow to outside pressure or simply allow his people to be colonized. His star was on the rise as he worked to keep his country away from the brink of destruction, only to be brought down in a less-than-glorious way.

The Christian emperor was busy reuniting Ethiopia from various breakaway factions as the power and force of Islam and of Islamic nations put pressure on him to push back. Tewodros expected help from the Christian nations of the world but found none was forthcoming. He tried imprisoning British officials to force an expedition to come to Ethiopia’s aid. He got an expedition, but the 12,000 troop-strong force was coming for him, not his enemies.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII

The fort at Maqdala overlooks a deep valley. The British did not have an easy time of it here.

The Emperor imprisoned those officials at Maqdala, where he himself was holed up, along with 13,000 of his own men. The British force coming to the fort was comprised of only 9,000 men, but they were carrying superior firepower with them. When the redcoats completely tore up the Abyssinian army, Tewodros decided to take his own life, rather than submit to the humiliations that the British would surely subject him to.

That small act of defiance earned him immortality in Ethiopia, who remembers Tewodros today as one of the country’s most prominent cultural and historical figures.

And for decades, the Ethiopians have demanded the return of Tewodors’ hair. Only now, after decades and a French push to restore captured colonial artifacts to their home countries, has England ever considered giving in.

Articles

8 US Navy ships named for women

The United States Navy has a history of honoring women – one that goes way back to 1776, when a row galley was named for Martha Washington (George’s wife).  Currently, seven Navy ships named for women are in active service with the United States Navy, and an eighth is on the way. Here’s a rundown on these ships:


1. USS Hopper (DDG 70)

This Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named for Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper according to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.” Admiral Hopper was a computer scientist who served from 1941 to 1986 in the Naval Reserve and active Navy. At the time of her retirement, she was the oldest commissioned officer in the Navy.

The destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with a total of 90 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standard missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets. She also has eight RGM-84 Harpoons in two Mk 141 launchers, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, and two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes.

In January, 2008, the Hopper was one of several U.S. Navy warships that had close encounters with Iranian speedboats.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

2. USS Roosevelt (DDG 80)

This Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named in honor of both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady for 12 years, then served as a diplomat and spokesperson for the United Nations.

The destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) has a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total of 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters.

According to a 2006 US Navy release, the Roosevelt and the Dutch Frigate De Zeven Provincien took part in an attempted rescue of a South Korean fishing vessel captured by pirates. In 2014, the DOD reported the destroyer took part in delivering a rogue oil tanker to Libyan authorities.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
USS Roosevelt (DDG 😎 in the Suez Canal. (US Navy photo)

3. USNS Sacagawea (T AKE 2)

This Lewis and Clark class replenishment ship was named for Sacagawea, the Native American woman who guided the expedition lead by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark across the Louisiana Purchase. A previous USS Sacagawea (YT 326) was a harbor tug that served from 1925 to 1945.

The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Sacagawea carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels.  She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.

In 2013, the Sacagawea took part in Freedom Banner 2013 as part of the Maritime Prepositioning Force.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
USNS Sacagawea (T AKE 2) replenishes two amphibious vessels. (US Navy photo)

4. USNS Amelia Earhart (T AKE 6)

The first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart was one of the few women who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 under unknown circumstances. DANFS notes that a Liberty Ship was previously named for the famous aviator.

The 41,000-ton replenishment ship USNS Amelia Earhart carries ammo, food, and other supplies to keep the United States Navy (and allies) fighting. The ship also can transfer some fuel to other vessels. She can carry two MH-60 helicopters to help transfer cargo and have as many as six .50-caliber machine guns.

DANFS notes that on Nov. 20, 2014, the Amelia Earhart collided with USNS Walter S. Diehl (T AO 193).

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) and the Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE-6) conduct an underway replenishment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (US Navy photo)

5. USNS Mary Sears (T AGS 65)

Mary Sears was the first Oceanographer of the Navy during World War II. According to the website for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, her research on thermoclines saved many American submariners’ lives by enabling our subs to hide from enemy forces.

Fittingly, the U.S. Navy named the Pathfinder-class oceanographic research vessel USNS Mary Sears in her honor. The 5,000-ton vessel has a top speed of 16 knots, and carries a number of sensors for her mission. In 2007, the Mary Sears helped locate the “black boxes” from a missing airliner.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Mary Sears supports worldwide oceanography programs, including performing acoustical, biological, physical, and geophysical surveys. (Unattributed or dated U.S. Navy photograph, Mary Sears (T-AGS-65), Ship Inventory, MSC)

6. USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10)

Former Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — whose husband is astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly — served for five years before resigning her seat in the aftermath of an assassination attempt.

The Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords has a 57mm gun, four .50-caliber machine guns, and a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. The vessel can carry two MH-60 helicopters and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles.

The ship just entered service in December, 2016, and had a cameo in Larry Bond’s 2016 novel, Red Phoenix Burning, where it was rammed by a Chinese frigate, suffering moderate damage.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
An aerial view of the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) during its launch sequence at the Austal USA shipyard, Mobile, Alabama (USA). (US Navy photo)

7. USNS Sally Ride (T AGOR 28)

Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, flying on two Space Shuttle missions (missing a third after the Challenger exploded during launch), who died after a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2012.

The Navy named the Neil Armstrong-class oceanographic research vessel USNS Sally Ride in her honor. The vessel, which is operated by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, is equipped with acoustic systems for ocean mapping and modular laboratories, according to DANFS. In February,the Sally Ride helped map an underwater fault off the coast of California, providing information that helped to update Google Earth.

A sister ship, the USNS Neil Armstrong (T AGOR 27), named for the first person to walk on the moon, is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Dr. Tamara E. O’Shaughnessy, Sally Ride’s sponsor, breaks a bottle across the ship’s bow during her christening at Dakota Creek’s shipyard in Anacortes, Wash., 4 August 2014. Joining O’Shaughnessy on the platform are Dick Nelson, president, Dakota Creek Industries, Inc., the reverend Dr. Bear Ride, matron of honor, Kathleen Ritzman, assistant director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, Kathryn Sullivan, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research. (US NAvy photo)

8. USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123)

Lenah Higbee was the first woman to receive the Navy Cross – being recognized for her service as Superintendant of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in World War I. She was recognized with a Gearing-class destroyer in 1945, according to DANFS, that saw action in the last months of World War II.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee will have a 5-inch gun, two Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) with a total on 96 cells for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66, RIM-161, and RIM-174 Standards, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, two Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), four .50 caliber machine guns, two triple mounts for Mk 32 torpedo tubes, and the ability to carry two MH-60R helicopters when she enters service. MarineLog.com reported in January that construction of the destroyer had started.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Lenah Higbee, Superintendant of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps during World War I. (US Navy photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

When it comes to aviation, aircraft are only as good as the pilots behind them, and in the beginning, one man was instrumental in getting military aviation off the ground.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois was one of the first in the military to assume the mantle of aviator as manned flight was still in its infancy, and according to Bob Barlow, U.S. Army Aviation Museum volunteer and former aviator, his efforts helped shape what aviation is today.

Foulois first enlisted in the Army to serve in the Spanish-American War in 1898, but only served for five months before being mustered out, said Barlow. He re-enlisted in 1899 at just 18 years old and quickly ascended through the ranks to become a second lieutenant by 1901.


He was sent to the Army Signal School in 1908 where he wrote the thesis, “The Tactical and Strategically Value of Dirigible Balloons and Aerodynamical Flying Machines,” showcasing his foresight that the future of warfare would be in aviation.

A quote from Foulois’ thesis read, “In all future warfare, we can expect to see engagements in the air between hostile aerial fleets. The struggle for supremacy in the air will undoubtedly take place while the opposing armies are maneuvering for position.”

“He said the military dirigible and the airplane would be responsible for gaining the upper hand in the skies before the battle took place — nobody ever really talked about that before him,” Barlow said.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Major General Benjamin D. Foulois

Foulois was selected as one of three Signal Corps officers to receive flying instruction to become one of the first military aviators, and on July 13, 1912, he became the fifth Army officer to be rated as a military aviator.

“He was one of the first three selected, but he was the first military aviator to stay the course,” said Barlow. “He was taken up by the Wright brothers and sent to Fort Sam Houston to complete his training on his own.

“Around this time, as aviation started taking off more and more, there were a lot of ground commanders who thought it was a lot of nonsense,” he said. “But there were visionaries like Foulois who knew that it was the next big thing.”

Throughout his testing of aircraft in 1911, which included the Wright Military Flyer, he was instrumental and innovating and providing ideas, even inventing the first seat belt, said the museum curator.

“(Later in life) when asked what his inspiration was for creating the seat belt, he said he was getting tired of being thrown out of the aircraft and hitting his head,” said Barlow.

Foulois also could see that the Wright Military Flyer was incredibly outdated and wouldn’t be able to compete on the battlefield.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Lt. Foulois and Orville Wright

“The airplane at the time was a push propeller aircraft that was basically a box kite,” said Barlow. “At the same time, the French were way ahead of us with a tractor aircraft and central seating for the aircraft, which looks more like the proper airplane that we know today.”

After a series of crashes and accidents, Foulois, along with other officers in aviation. condemned the pusher propeller aircraft and began to lean toward the tractor aircraft. In 1913 he joined the 1st Aero Squadron, and by 1914 he was appointed as its commander.

In March of 1916, he reported for duty with Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, and along with Capt. Townsend Dodd performed the first U.S. aerial reconnaissance mission over enemy-held territory in Mexico.

“This was their first foray into getting their feet wet with military combat aviation,” said Barlow, adding that by the time World War I came along, Foulois was probably the most experienced officer in the military in regards to aviation.

Because of his experience, he was tasked with the procurement, production, and development and operations of aircraft.

Initially, the Army wanted several thousand aircraft, 4,800 pilots and twice as many mechanics, all within a year, but with the resources at the time it wasn’t possible.

The only survivor of the Katyn Massacre in WWII
Brig. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois, Maj. Gen. James. E. Fechet and Brig. Gen. H.C. Pratt

“That didn’t’ happen,” said Barlow. “We weren’t ready for that. Our output was barely 40 aircraft a month on a good month, so, we had to borrow from the British and the French.”

Foulois later deployed to France doing the same job, and in 1917 he become chief of air services in the zone of occupation for the Army Expeditionary Force. It was during his time in WWI that eventually the U.S. produced its own aircraft, the JN-4 Jenny.

Following the war, he was later appointed as the chief of the Air Corps in 1931, and in 1934 then-President Theodore Roosevelt tasked Foulois to head the Army Air Corps Mail Operation, which ended in the Air Mail scandal of 1934 because the Air Corps was ill equipped to take on the mission, said Barlow.

“They flew about 1.4 million miles carrying the mail and they lost a lot of people doing it,” he said. As a result, Foulois ended up taking the brunt of the blame for the program’s failure and was forced into retirement in 1935 with 36 years of service.

Despite the scandal, Barlow said Foulois was instrumental in bringing military aviation to the forefront.

“This is a man who came in the military at 18 … and became one of the first three pilots in the U.S. military. He was there through the birth of all the doctrine, the changes and the clashes with the ground force,” he said. “What we’re doing now we owe to him. He was the first military aviator to stay the course, and he was Army aviator No. 1 as far as I’m concerned.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

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